Sometimes Dreams Do Come True

Happy Holidays everyone!

It seems appropriate that having spent 5 days amongst the polar bears that I would have not 1 or 2 blog posts from that fabulous adventure … but 5!  I mean, there was just so much to experience there, so many new friends (both polar bears and human), and my goodness, so many photographs to share.  If you haven’t seen the previous posts, take a few moments (OK, it may actually take a few moments longer) to get yourself caught up.  I’ll include the links at the end of this post … #5 of 5.

I had always dreamed of seeing real live polar bears when I was very young.  Over time of course, I was fortunate enough to see them in zoos, but that wasn’t enough for me.  Little did I know then, that decades later, I would become addicted to BEARS … all kinds.  Maybe it was already in my DNA, who knows.  LOL.

I, as in solo, flew off to Alaska in late September of 2015 … just 2 weeks after returning home from there from an adventure out there with Tom.  It was crazy and I was feeling a bit crazier.  How could I do that without Tom?  My trusted adventure partner and personal sherpa … OK, any that knows me knows that I’m not joking.  However, I did, and I never looked back, then or now, and have the time of my life.  Five days in Kaktovik, Alaska … 8 trips out in the Beaufort Sea of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, photographing polar bears, from a relatively small boat.  They were everything that I hoped … and more!_DSC2594 We observed lone polar bears as they roamed the arctic landscape.  We also were treated to sows with their young cubs.  I found it fascinating when they would encounter other bears.  In this instance, I believe that the bear in the water was familiar with the sow …perhaps an older offspring from the past.  The cub was quite interested in playing with it, but mom would always place herself in between the cub and other bear._DSC2673 _DSC2679 _DSC2701A few times the encounter seemed like it was becoming a bit tense.  I was so engaged in the interaction, but make no mistake about it, I didn’t want to see any fights.  Yes, I’m that one.  Haha._DSC2712 Mom and the bear would wrestle around in the water, while the young cub obediently waited on the shore._DSC2738 They reminded me of dogs playing in the surf or anywhere else for that matter.  There was a lot of snarling, teeth flossing, claws bared …_DSC2861… but like most brawls, there wasn’t much else but playful fighting … or perhaps a play for dominance and lesson teaching.
_DSC2859 All the while, the cub observed from afar and would call out to its mom.  Of course, she ignored its calls._DSC3054 Eventually, she would exit the water and join her cub.  Before long though, the other bear would come close to shore and off the cub would go to play or defend its mom, we really couldn’t tell._DSC2946 Once again, mom would escort the bear back into the water._DSC0642When it was safe to proceed, she began to travel the landscape again, with her cub along her side.  Seems like the cub wanted to still interact with the other bear though._DSC3311Just as any good mom would do, she them gave the cub a little nibble in the backside to teach it a lesson.  LOL
_DSC3142 These bears would find just about anything they could to play with, eat, or entertain themselves.  _DSC3682 While we were positioned in an open boat, the bears would share the waters with us.  Though they are excellent swimmers, we were quite safe and always kept a respectable distance.  I just loved how entertaining they were and how many positions that they could get themselves in.  Look at the size of those pads!_DSC2130 _DSC2106Whale blubber made an excellent toy to play with … the nastier, the better.
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As always, I became obsessed by the size of their feet and the beauty of their pads.  As opposed to brown bears, these bears had more distinct pads … better for photography even._DSC2072 The real beauty of them though was their movement on the land.  So determined in their walk._DSC3395 Again, the interactions with other bears that they encountered seemed to be calm and even at times playful.  _DSC3338 When I was told that we had to get back to shore on our last trip, I felt that old familar feeling that I can only describe as only ….. NOOOOOO! …. followed by incessant shutter clicking.  As if the thousands I had already taken weren’t enough.  😦_DSC2758 Once we waited for our van to take us from the shore to the inn for the last time, I saw something that was so incredibly appropriate.  A rainbow positioned just perfectly behind a whale bone on the snowy landscape.  It was a sign … our trip was over … but to me also was a sign to me that I would return one day.  🙂IMG_0156 Even our departure was exciting.  Though I had secretly (OK, maybe not so secretly) hoped that our flight would be unable to make it in to pick us up, there it was taxiing down the runway, which double as the road, to pick us up.  Dang! IMG_0045 As were were loading up for our return flight to Fairbanks, I still didn’t want to leave.  But ultimately we had to … the 4 of us and 4 more Canadian photographers shared a pleasant flight back to the big city.  See, it’s all relative in Alaska.IMG_0092 Yes, it was a fabulous trip to the arctic … the literal end of the land … for these amazing polar bears.  Our group was fantastic and I still keep in touch with each of them, as well as several of my new friends from Canada.  Amazing how photography bonds people and makes the world a much smaller place.  It is my hope that my photographs and stories shared in this and the other 4 blog posts from this amazing adventure serve to keep others informed about the polar bears and their fight for survival.  It’s up to us to insure that our children, grandchildren, and for many more generations have the opportunity to know the joys of polar bears … yes, up close and personal like I did.  🙂harshaj_20151005_191-31-100As promised, here are the links for the other blog posts shared:

Part 1:     http://www.tnwaphotography.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/im-dreaming-of-a-white-bear-polar-bear-that-is/

Part 2:     http://www.tnwaphotography.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/sun-rays-water-play/

Part 3:     http://www.tnwaphotography.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/adding-a-dash-of-snow/

Part 4:     http://www.tnwaphotography.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/an-arctic-celebration/

© 2016  TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

 

Adding A Dash of Snow

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 6-1/2 months since I visited with the polar bears of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  It’s hard to believe that Kaktovik,in the fall season, was about 70+ degrees (farenheit) colder than I find it in the spring of south Florida.  Especially hard to believe that we actually had the most amazing of weather while I was there … from sunny clear days to misty/foggy days to snowy days … but the notorious arctic winds were never strong enough for us to be grounded in the 5 days.  Quite lucky for us … adding to the unbelievable experience that I had there.

On this morning, it was lightly snowing … just enough to make it pretty for the composition, but not too much to cause problems with the actual photography experience.     I have to admit that it was probably my favorite morning for capturing the “mood” and environment they lived in … see, polar bears should be in the snow.  At least that’s what I had always thought while growing up.  🙂

_DSC7514I love to imagine what it was like for the polar bears to roam around on the arctic landscape each and every time I took their image.  While the one above seemed to be enjoying the snowfall, I wondered if it sensed that the period of waiting for that ice to freeze was shortening and it knew that soon it would be off on its hunt across the frozen landscape.  Or was it simply enjoying the snowfall and trying to catch a snowflake?  LOL  Didn’t matter to me … either scenario was intriguing to me.
_DSC9603One by one they made their way down the shore of Barter Island and as they did, I struggled with how exactly I wanted to capture them.  So I opted for a variety of near and faraway images to better tell their story of struggle, survival, and love for their young.  I wanted to hang onto every ounce of emotion that I was feeling as I possibly could._DSC9545 Sometimes they would encounter others along the way … while other times they would simply pass by them, while other times, they would stop to interact with a sniff, a swim in the water together, a submissive move away from the dominant bear, or engage in a bit of a pushing match … which I’m sure was also a lesson in learning one’s hierarchy status.  I couldn’t help but notice the differences in their coats – a range of creamy white to quite “dirty” looking … probably a consequence of dining on whale blubber._DSC8367 The most tender moments, that would instantaneously melt my heart (and serve to keep me warm out in the cold) were the moments and images captured of moms and their cubs.  Of course, the cuddle moments were highlights on that list._DSC9869 When they snuggled, whether playing or napping, they were absolutely endearing to photograph.  These cubs were generally “cubs of the year” and therefore about 10-11 months old.  Interestingly, only pregnant female polar bears den during the winter, where they give birth somewhere between Novemeber and December.  Females then emerge from the den when the cubs are old enough to safely do so, usually in March or April.  _DSC9817 One afternoon, I probably hit my “squeal quota” observing the antics being performed by this young cub, in its attempt to entertain itself while its mom was resting nearby._DSC9580 This cub had THE BEST TIME with this stick, that it managed to find on the snowy landscape, as it wielded it around and around, and falling clumsily over and over, all around it.  I remember how it played with it for probably 45 minutes while we watched._DSC0066 _DSC0014 During that time, it seemed that time stood still for me.  I don’t remember breathing (though I’m sure that I did), I don’t remember feeling my heart beat or my chest expand and sink with my respirations.  I simply remember hearing the clicking of my shutter … endlessly … and feeling a huge smile spread across my face.  My heart was melting.  I found another true “happy place”._DSC0013 _DSC0209 _DSC0143 Finally I guess the thrill of playing with that stick was gone because the cub eventually abandoned it and returned to its sleeping mom.  I sensed that the cub was a bit uncertain if it should wake up its mom, but it cautiously and gently tried to approach her._DSC0477 To my surprise, the mom responded by sitting up and rolling over, patting her cub on its head.  _DSC0393Nursing of the cub soon followed and just in case I had any heart space that hadn’t been touched yet, that moment sure sealed the deal.
_DSC0019 I’ve said previously how impressed that I was with how wonderful these polar bear moms were … patient, nurturing, loving, and kind … though still in charge when necessary._DSC0216I noticed also that they moms appeared that they would take turns watching over each others cubs, enabling a sleepy mom some much needed rest, especially those who still had several cubs in tow._DSC0453 The moms were never far from their cubs though, which was refreshing to see.  Speaking of refreshing … look who’s playing a game of “Tag” and “Hide & Seek”?  These two cubs were so entertaining as they swam around and under this iceberg, climbing up it a bit to get a better vantage point to check on it playmate.  It was so heartwarming to see them playing as such, reminding me of our own young children … having fun, learning new things, interacting with others, all while being supervised by their mom.  Well, maybe they do that more than some humans do, but that’s a whole other story.  LOL.
_DSC0087 Yes, these polar bears were such interesting subjects and by day 3, I think that we had learned so much about them and their behaviors.  Good thing too, for that’s when wildlife photography really can kick in, being able to anticipate their behaviors and next moves.  It also allows you to open yourself to enjoy the experience more._DSC0886 As I write about my experiences, emotions that I dealt with, and share these images, one thing that I know for sure is that I will return to see and photograph these amazing polar bears again one day.  How could I not?   _DSC0603There will be more polar bear images and stories later this summer, but for now I’ll return to more birding action from Florida … UP NEXT.

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

I’m Dreaming of a White … Bear … Polar Bear, that is :-)

Well here goes … the blog post that some of you have waited for with much anticipation.  Quite honestly, I was so excited to share my “once-in-a-lifetime” experience with everyone, though I knew that just as my “pre-trip preparations” seemed overwhelming … so did the “post-trip” work – processing over WAY more images than I care to admit.  🙂  I hope that no one minds that I share these images over  several blog posts.

So, for those of you who don’t know, this past October I took an amazing trip that I had dreamed about probably for a lifetime – to see the polar bears in the wild!  Never did I think I would ever realize that dream.  Never did I think that it would be so PERFECT!  🙂

Years ago when I talked about going to see them, I think that Tom thought I was crazy… and that was when I wanted to see them from the comfort of the tundra buggies in Churchill.  Over the years, given my affection (or some would say “infection”, LOL) with Alaska, the ante had been raised.  I was now set to travel to the edge of the arctic to Kaktovik, AK.  It started with a good friend of mine was going to celebrate a special birthday there and Tom gave the OK for me to join her and her friend.  Excited, I set out to coordinate my plans with theirs, but it wasn’t to be.  I resigned myself to thinking that I was not going to realize my dream in 2015.  OK, I think I must have sulked around a bit because Tom eventually encouraged me to “find another way to make it happen”.  I jumped on that request and as they say, “the rest is history”.  Tom opted to let me venture out on my own for this trip … much like when I traveled to Yellowstone in the winter by myself, I’m sure he had a great time imagining how I was able to get all of my gear and clothing on and off 3 planes without him.  🙂  But, when there’s a will, there’s a way.  🙂

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Once I arrived to a snow-covered Fairbanks, AK, I prayed that I had everything that I needed and that things would go as planned.  My group was headed by Epic Destinations and Alex Mody.  It was me & 3 other photographers from various places around the world.  Little did those guys know what they were in for.  LOL

IMG_0037 We flew Ravn Air, in our 9-seater plane, without incident or delays, from Fairbanks to Barter Island (the airport that serves Kaktovik, where we would be staying).  I could hardly contain myself when we neared our destination.IMG_0006 Once safely on the ground, I could see that we were out in the middle of pretty much nowhere.  I could see a truck coming out our way to pick us up and transport us into the village.IMG_0137 To my delight, I ran into my dear friend Renee and Catherine (my new friend), – both amazing photographers – as I was arriving and they were ready to depart.  I could tell how absolutely pleased they both were with their experience and how excited they were for me.  I so wished that we could have shared the experience together … but hopefully we will have more opportunities to do so in the future.  Right girls?  🙂IMG_0132 In Kaktovik, there are few places to lodge and we stayed at the Marsh Creek Inn, which I’m told is the place to stay.  I really didn’t know what to expect, but I can tell you that I was pleasantly surprised … it quickly became my home away from home.  There’s one thing that’s nice about being the only female in my group … for I had pretty much my own space, bathroom, etc.  It just keeps getting better!  We were fed our meals, which were quite varied and tasty, while there.  Yes, Tim (the manager) and his staff took great care of me!IMG_0122 After we settled in and grabbed some lunch, we made our way to the first of 8 trips out to photograph the polar bears.  As you can see the waters were icy … see, the bears are there waiting for that ice to form, so that they can venture out to hunt seals, etc.IMG_0113 There it was … our first sighting of a polar bear!  Do I need to tell you how excited I was?_DSC7779 _DSC8543 The excitement waned only when I glimpsed my first mom with her cub. Now my heart was melting faster than the polar ice (couldn’t resist that one)!_DSC8116 We were asked earlier to keep quiet when we find polar bears.  While I understand the reason for the request, I immediately fessed up and apologized in advance for the squeals of delight that were undoubtedly going to be emanating out of me.  LOL.  To my surprise, I really wasn’t too bad.  I think that it was a combination of wonder, awe, not wanting to miss a second of the experience.  I would literally pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming!_DSC8142 I remember being particularly aware of how patient and kind these polar bear moms seemed to be with their young._DSC8256 Just like the brown bears that I’ve photographed so often in the past, the cubs were quite rambunctious._DSC7930 Of course, being a lover of bear paws and pads, I couldn’t help but be totally fascinated with the ones possessed by these bears of the arctic.  Makes sense, but wow, they sure were giant._DSC7910 While photographing, you could just feel the love and bond between this mother and cub. I think that there were times that I actually would find myself forgetting to breath.  It was all so perfect!  What could possibly be cuter that this mom and cub bear hug?_DSC8342 I remember that when I was readying for my trip I was told about how the polar bears were not actually white … what I found is that the color of their fur varied greatly … from a creamy white to almost the color of a brown bear blondie.  _DSC6749 These cubs undoubtedly grew exponentially from the time that they are born, to the time they first emerge from the den, to now.  It was all that I could do not to jump out and go cuddle with it.  Just kidding of course.  😉_DSC7124 _DSC7451 Mom always kept a keen eye on her young.  I was afraid that we would see defensive and aggressive encounters between bear families, but we saw nothing like that at all.  They all just seemed to get along peacefully._DSC7301 These bears were quite intrigued by us, but never acted unnatural or afraid.  I think that they were almost as curious about us as we were of them._DSC9482 As I mentioned before, there are so many images and memories, so stay tuned for more blog posts, including the next post which will feature these amazing polar bears as well.  So until then, I leave you with this wonderful trio we observed from afar.  Near or far, they were amazing!_DSC6647Next up:  Sun, water fun, games, & more – Polar Bears!

© 2015  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

2015 Year In Review – Part 2

I hope that everyone enjoyed Part 1 of the 2015 Year In Review … but the year wasn’t over where we left off … oh no, far from it.  So make yourself comfortable and enjoy the ride of June through December.

“Road Trip!”  Not just any road trip, but a cycling one with friends across country and back.  First stop, Virgina.  There Tom, Todd, and John had the honor to represent Team USA in the 2015 World Police & Firefighter Games.  They were competing in the mountain biking and road cycling events.  I know that it was quite an honor to march in the Opening Ceremonies Parade of Countries, featuring these skilled athletes from all over the world.DSC_4724Tom competed in the road criterium race and was awarded 3rd Place.  Not bad for a guy who doesn’t ever compete in road cycling events.  🙂  Shout out to his sponsor Tune Cycles in Boca Raton, FL.  DSC_3753In the mountain biking event, Tom took top honors and was awarded the Gold Medal for his effort.  A nice repeat from his last appearance at the World Games in Indianapolis, where he also finished first.  So proud of my World Champion hubby!  Yes, he’s my sherpa, but also quite the athlete.DSC_4812I never made it to the road race, since I had something even more important to do.  See, my daughter Kelli was having her “White Coat Ceremony” for her Physician Assistant program, so off I went to Jacksonville to support her honor.  Such a proud momma.  :-)MIMG_2677The guys continued on their way out west, stopping to ride the trails along the way.  I met back up with them in Park City, with much anticipation for some photo shoots, but the weather had other ideas.  Either way, it was gorgeous.DSC_4862No trip to Utah is ever complete with visiting the Moab area, especially if you’re with 3 cycling fanatics.  No worries, Arches NP and Canyonlands were just down the street for me.DSC_4886

While in Canyonlands NP, the guys mountain biked the Shafer Overlook Trail, a place Tom & I had visited before and I told him “no way, no how would I drive down that thing”.  Well, you guessed it, that’s just what I did … well, not me driving … thanks Rachel.DSC_5059On our way east again, we stopped at Grand Junction & Fruita, CO – also a mecca for cyclists.  For me, there was the beauty of the Grand Mesa area, as well as Colorado National Monument.  I have a feeling that we might be seeing more of this area again.DSC_5184DSC_5346-HDRMy only request on this road trip was Mt. Evans and those mountaintop mountain goats.  Couldn’t believe my eyes when we arrived to a closed sign for some major road repairs lasting months.  Since this was a cycling trip, Tom took one for the team and road the 15 mile winding road, in the high winds and cold, with about 4500 foot vertical elevation climb, all in an effort to get me those mountain goats.  What a guy!  IMG_2799-2IMG_0898The World Champion not only made it to the top, but got some world class images to prove it!  So grateful to him.DSC_5550Not having enough mountain climbing, Tom and his buddies decided to give Pikes Peak a try.  As you can see, the weather was threatening … wind, rain, sleet, snow … they had it all.DSC_5292Back in Colorado Springs, of course The Garden Of The Gods is a must.DSC_5351Along the way, we stopped along the Bourbon Trail, and I learned more about bourbon than I ever thought was possible!  Such an amazing process and beautiful countryside.DSC_5784When we returned home, it wasn’t long before our 9th return trip to … you guessed it … Alaska.  _DSC5938Katmai National Park & Preserve is always a MUST when making the journey out there and the bears didn’t disappoint.  Dave of AK Adventures and Wes of Beluga Air once again treated us to some spectacular inflight views and amazing bear encounters.DSC_6195DSC_7677DSC_8370Each visit to Alaska is so different from any other, so it always makes the trip exciting.  This year we were treated to very nice weather.  By that I mean, cold, but for the most part sunny._DSC3327Though we generally see the sea otters, seals, and sea lions while there, no previous encounters were of this level.  I mean, the marine life practically presented themselves to us… with their salmon offering as well.  🙂_DSC6332Now that I don’t “stalk” the aurora like I used to, I find that it presents itself more readily!  Probably the most spiritual phenomenon that I have ever witnessed, there’s nothing like witnessing the northern lights.  Sure, it’s frigid cold while out there, but honestly, I get carried away by natures light show and I don’t even feel it.  If I could wish something for everyone to witness, it would be the aurora borealis!DSC_6995We’re usually pretty lucky when it comes to seeing “the mountain” out in its full glory, this year was even more special.  See, we were there for the official return of the name “Denali” to the mountain (previously known as Mt. McKinley, though previously to that, Denali).  I felt so proud to be a part of that history and as you can see, the mountain was proud too and really showed off as if in graditude._DSC3553The moose rut season was getting close, as the bulls were almost shed of their velvet and congregating with the other bulls, all following the ladies.DSC_381413 days after returning home from Alaska, I had a special treat for myself in store … a return to Alaska.  This time, Kaktovik was my destination and the stars of my trip were the amazing polar bears of the arctic.  It was a dream of a lifetime and I had to pinch myself often to be sure that I was actually living that dream._DSC6749_DSC1471_DSC9445_DSC7514If I had two more wishes, I would have wished that Tom was there with me.  No, not to carry my gear, but to experience their beauty, silly antics, and share in the awe of it all.  The other wish would be that everyone could also see the polar bears of the arctic and judge for themselves the importance of preserving their home for them and us as well.  Hey, you can, as we did, see the northern lights there too, so it could be just one trip!  🙂_DSC0014OK, now I’m feeling a bit spoiled … but we also treated ourselves to some autumn glory, as seen off the Blue Ridge Parkway and Ashesville, NC area.  Such a treat to this Florida girl._DSC4161_DSC4136Yes, 2015 was a dream come true on all levels.  Now that I have more time to fully enjoy travel, photography, and personal business pursuits, who knows where the road will lead.  Life is such a journey … its path is often unknown … its duration is even more unsure.  The only thing that I know for certain is that I will live life to the fullest and challenge myself with new experiences and adventures along the way.  It will be hard to top 2015, but … “challenge accepted”.  Thanks to all who made 2015 possible and shared moments with us along the way … especially Jen, Liz, Jess, Amy M, Cris, Kathleen, Kim, Kelli & Mitchell, Nicole, Violet, Bob, Maria, Todd, John, Rachel, Amy H, Rick, Dave, Phil, Rebecca, Renee & Al, Alex & the gang from Kaktovik, Kem & John, my mom & Murray, and of course, Tom.

Here’s to 2016!

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Next Up:  More from Alaska

© 2015  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy     (www.tnwaphotography.com)